Jealousy, an inherent part of the human psyche, is something everyone relates to, which is why it’s a common theme in romance novels. You can use it to establish your characters’ desires and show how important those desires are to the characters. Jealousy generates conflict and gives depth to the people in your book. It can define who those people are by how they react to the emotion. Incorporating jealousy also evokes reader sympathy and empathy because everyone knows what it’s like to feel jealous. It’s not a fun feeling, and readers relate to characters through the unsavory emotion.
Examples of Jealousy in Romance
There are many types of jealousy that are generated by different scenarios. For example, you could have romantic jealousy or possessive jealousy, professional jealousy between coworkers or familial jealousy between siblings. You could even have extreme jealousy, when one character goes to extremes to resolve their feelings.
Edward and Jacob both exhibit their romantic jealousy in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga as they butt heads over loving the same girl, Bella. This creates conflict and gives the readers insight into the depth of their love.
In The Mortal Instruments series, by Cassandra Clare, Simon’s jealousy of Jace is somewhat similar in this regard, though Jace is less concerned over Clary’s friendship with Simon. And as the story unfolds, Simon’s jealousy transforms more into the category of a possessive jealousy. While he has feelings for Clary, his jealousy stems from his fear of losing her as a friend, both to Jace, who she has a crush on, but also to the world of shadowhunters.
The Hating Game, written by Sally Thorne, illicites a more professional undertone to jealousy as Lucy and Joshua struggle to earn the same promotion. Her fresh take on a workplace romance generates jealousy between the two love interests before they discover that their conflict may be based in sexual tension just as much as it is in jealousy.
Of course, everyone is familiar with familial and friendly competition. This generates jealousy between siblings or two best friends and challenges the characters to rise above their baser emotions to protect their love for each other. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, is a perfect example of two half-brothers, Adam and Charles, who regard each other as competition as they both vie for the same girl’s affections.
Rivals can stem from jealousy as well. Take Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In this timeless classic, the queen, and stepmother, grows jealous of Snow White’s beauty and how all around her love the younger girl. Their conflict escalates as the queen instructs a hunter to take Snow White to the woods and kill her to remove the girl as a rival for people’s love.
Then there’s extreme jealousy. In Nicholas Sparks’s Safe Haven, Erin’s abusive husband, Kevin, hunts her down and tries to kill her and her new love interest, Alex, when he finds her and sees she’s moved on. This jealousy borders on psychotic as he chooses to kill the one he loves rather than let her leave him.
How do you write it into your own novel?
Each of these forms of jealousy drives the plot forward and adds depth to the characters. But how do you develop your own character’s jealousy?
Analyze character motives
Start by analyzing what fuels their jealousy: fear, insecurity, rejection, confusion, distrust, shame, paranoia, envy. These underlying emotions give motive to your characters and strengthen their personalities. Jealousy just for jealousy’s sake can quickly be resolved, but what about jealousy that stems from the fear of not being good enough? Jealousy formed because the lover doesn’t trust their love interest after being cheated on will be more engaging than jealousy with no reason behind it.
Paint a jealous picture
Implementing physical manifestations of jealousy goes a long way in developing your character. Motions such as scowling, clenched fists or teeth, verbal outbursts, physical altercations, or assault demonstrate an anger brought on by jealousy. On the other hand, stoic silence, depression, tears, a red face, tight lips, or an increased heart rate indicate emotional turmoil. That could mean sadness or nerves. Jealousy can reveal itself in many different ways, and knowing the kind of body language your character would use to express it helps your readers identify the emotion without you having to state it outright.
Consider what how jealousy makes the character act.
Now consider how your character might handle their jealousy. Are they the kind of person who will make up lies, avoid the person they’re jealous of, confront them, insult them? They might self-destruct, manipulate others to gain sympathy, pout, or become reckless. Depending on your character’s personality, they might be more prone to reacting one way or another. And when you understand who your character is, you will know better how they should react to the situation.
Is jealousy inherent to your character's personality?
Another question to ask yourself in developing jealousy is how integral this emotion is to your character’s personality. Can they grow from it? Resolve it? Is it justified? Just because they react to jealousy one way at the start of the book, doesn’t mean their character can’t progress to a different type of behavior in the end. Think about whether they are conscious of their own emotions at the start of the book. What about by your book’s resolution?
Make jealousy complex
But why stop at the simpler, more common forms of jealousy? Try combining different types of jealousy to make your characters more intricate. After all, two characters who develop a professional jealousy become much more interesting when one of those characters takes it to the next level and kidnaps their coworker, turning the corner into extreme jealousy.
Jealousy is an effective tool in the author's arsenal. While you should be cautious of using it simply to create an action scene, when utilized properly, jealousy can engage readers and make the characters more human and relatable. It increases conflict, which appeals to audiences, and everyone loves a good rivalry.
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